In Skagit County, the Celtic Arts Foundation is responsible for numerous Celtic activities, from the immensely popular Highland Games & Celtic Festival to smaller concerts and dances. Founded in 1997, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to encourage, sponsor and promote Celtic culture through music and education.
Mount Vernon Nonprofit Celebrates Celtic Culture
Based out of downtown Mount Vernon’s Littlefield Celtic Center, the Celtic Arts Foundation has hundreds of members in the region, from north of Bellingham to south of Seattle and even beyond Washington’s borders.
The foundation has three full-time employees, including program and events manager Cayley Schmid. The Bellingham resident is a professional musician, music instructor and concert organizer who spent her pre-teen and high school years playing the fiddle and doing Scottish Highland dancing. Schmid has also attended Highland Games all across the Western United States. “When you do that, you just kind of have to like the bagpipes,” she says with a laugh. “I really enjoy all facets of the Celtic music community.”
Celtic Events in Skagit
The Celtic Arts Foundation features a series of monthly music and dance events at Littlefield, including lessons and concerts. Many of the events are free, or with a suggested donation, and introductory music sessions are also streamed live on Zoom for at-home participants.
“You don’t have to play an instrument [to attend],” Schmid says. “You can come and just listen to the music. It’s very welcoming. You don’t need to have heritage. You don’t have to have a connection to the Celtic world to feel like you belong in [this] space.”
Littlefield also usually hosts one or two special events per month, Schmid says, including professional concerts and workshops. There are also history lectures, whiskey tastings, and a members-only, traditional Scottish breakfast with live music.
The Celtic Arts Foundation’s biggest event is undoubtedly their Highland Games and Celtic Festival, held annually on the second full weekend of July. The games and accompanying festival, she adds, are always a great experience no matter how into Celtic culture you might be. “Some people just get really into the dress of it,” she says. “You’ll see all sorts of different folks, from the spectrum of ‘What the heck is happening’ to full-on ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’ impersonators.”
A new event for 2022 was the Bellingham Celtic Festival, held in various locations throughout downtown Bellingham in October. The festival consisted of numerous Celtic music concerts and workshops, held at venues and brewpubs.
Celtic Winter School
Another signature program of the Celtic Arts Foundation is their Winter School, a nearly two-week-long Celtic music lesson camp that takes place each February in Seabeck, Washington.
Aimed at aspiring musicians, the Winter School is taught by accomplished Celtic musicians from across North America, Ireland and Scotland, and ranges from lessons on Highland pipes and drumming to the Irish fiddle and dance accompaniment.
The school concludes with a public Master of Scottish Arts performance held at a concert hall. The 2023 concert will be held in Edmonds, featuring concert pipers from Scotland. “It’s just an incredible concert of Highland piping and drumming,” Schmid says.
Support the Celtic Arts Foundation
Celtic Arts Foundation’s continued existence, of course, relies on a mix of generous donors, membership dues, endowments and fundraisers.
Membership comes with free entry for a member and accompanying family to the Highland Games, plus concert discounts and exclusive events like the aforementioned Scottish breakfast. Members also vote at annual general meetings and are given priority notice for event tickets ahead of the general public.
Visit the Celtic Arts Foundation website, call 360.416.4934 or visit Littlefield in-person to become part of the celtic community.
So no matter what attracts you to the allure of Celtic culture – whether the fun and energy of the music and dance, a propensity for wearing kilts, or maybe even the food – Skagit’s Celtic Arts Foundation is a place that offers “céad mile fáilte” – a hundred thousand welcomes.